November 18, 2018 | “Continuing the Conversations: Openness vs Reactivity (Curiosity)” • Ephesians 1.7-10 & Acts 17.16-23

D Smith, 2009. “Reasonable question” (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Scripture Reading • Ephesians 1.7-10  (NIV)

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.


We have been talking about conversations the past few Sundays … about how as Christ’s disciples we can build bridges over the polarization and bring people together across the divisions we see around us by working to continue conversations that have become stuck.

The keys to making these conversations work we have looked at so far are:

RESPECT / this comes from our core Christian conviction that all people have been created by God, bear God’s image, are worthwhile, and have an important piece to offer to the conversation.

LOVE / the challenge to put Jesus’ love into practice; to honor each other, bless enemies, share with those in need, offer hospitality, rejoice with those who rejoice … mourn with those who mourn … live in harmony and humility …

Love and respect can help us listen to people we might be tempted to avoid.

Today, I want to look at the power curiosity has to shape our conversations.

Dictionary’s define curiosity as “a strong desire to learn or know something.”

To me, that seems adequate, but kind of flat and not very exciting.

  • How would you all define curiosity?
  • What would you say are the traits fo a person who has a strong sense of curiosity?

That saying, “curiosity killed the cat,” warns of negative directions curiosity can sometimes take people. Curiosity can lead to nuisances, like hikes that turn out to be longer than they should have been, or annoying internet pop-ups and computer viruses that show up when we click on something we shouldn’t have. We hear stories about how curiosity can be more costly too, how it pointed someone down a dangerous path and left them with regrets, sometimes pain, and maybe even lifelong consequences.

Curiosity can lead in positive directions too … new learning, better understanding, empathy and compassion, exploration, world-changing inventions, even life-long friendships. Those questions, “What if … ?” “Why …?” “How …?” “Where … ?” can lead to horizon stretching discoveries that can make so many of our lives better.

  • Can you think of something good that following your curiosity has led you to?

A little curiosity can go a long way to keep our conversations moving.

Curiosity can help us to see where someone is coming from … the things in their life that have led them to hold a certain position or conviction

Curiosity can lead to genuine questions (– very different from those loaded questions people used to try to trap Jesus into saying something incriminating) … Curiosity can help us to have a “learning stance” – which is different from a reactive stance that elevates anxiety and turns conversations into arguments.  

The book, Difficult Conversations, points out that we all have different stories, different life experiences, and different ways of looking at the world that have shaped us. If we want to have meaningful conversations with people who are different from us, we need to be curious about that person’s story and the things that have worked together to make them who they are. 

We get to know other people’s stories is by being curious. The authors of Difficult Conversations write:

“There’s only one way to come to understand the other person’s story, and that’s by being curious. Instead of asking yourself, ‘How can they think that?!’ ask yourself, “I wonder what information they have that I don’t?’ Instead of asking, ‘How can they be so irrational?’ ask, “How might they see the world such that their view makes sense?’ … Curiosity lets us [into their story]” (Stone, Patton, Heen, p. 37).

Curiosity can keep us from getting angry. 

Curiosity can help us to be more empathetic and understanding.

Celeste Headle, the author of  We Need to Talk, believes curiosity expressed in being willing to ask questions and to admit when we don’t know something can help us have deeper conversations and build deeper friendships. She writes, 

“[When you can] get comfortable with saying, ‘I don’t know … first, you establish a foundation of trust and honesty, and second, you admit your own fallibility … owning up to a mistake or a lack of knowledge might feel like admitting weakness, but it can create a powerful empathetic bond” (171).

She goes on to tell about a study where doctor’s decided that if they didn’t know something they would tell their patients they didn’t know, but they would do their best to figure it out, surveys of these doctors’s patients found the doctors who were willing to say, “I don’t know” were more trusted than doctors who wouldn’t say it.

It takes courage to admit that we don’t know and it takes humility to learn. 

When the Apostle Paul, visited Athens, he was curious, he took some time to learn about the community, he met a group of philosophers, and some of those philosophers were curious about Paul too.

READ • Acts 17.16-23 

16While Paul was waiting … in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.

I like the picture of Paul making his way through Athens … following his curiosity

… exploring and observing …

17So [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him.

Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?”

“Babbler,” the greek word that shows up here, is probably better translated “seed scatterer.” This would have been an insult to a teacher … They accused Paul of picking up bits and pieces of philosophy and religion understanding from here and there and scattering them like a bird.

Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 

19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

This is the part that caught my attention when I was putting together this sermon series. Some people were hostile to Paul and his message … some people just didn’t understand but they were willing to ask Paul for clarification. We don’t understand this … could you say more? 

I see the Athenians curiosity here. Many of them didn’t flat out reject his message … they sought to understand it … they weren’t afraid to ask questions … it seems like they were trying to understand what Paul was saying.

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

The conversation continues as Paul tries to bring some clarity to the Athenian’s understanding of Jesus. They don’t all respond in the same way to his message.

Acts 17.32-34 says,

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 

At that, Paul left the Council. 

Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Some people rejected him … they had heard enough of his “seed picking/babbling” about resurrection … Some people were still curious and wanted to learn more. Others had heard all they needed to hear and they became Jesus’ disciples.

Paul did his best to answer their questions, but he couldn’t control their responses.

Curiosity might not lead us to agreement … but it can lead us to understanding (I think it is important to remember that understanding something doesn’t mean we have to agree or approve of it). But it can help us to understand people … and that can help us to live into Christ command that his disciples love one another.

As we seek to follow Jesus, as we seek to know him and trust him, and to live lives shaped by his love; curiosity can be an asset to us. Curiosity can drive us to pursue God … know God more … to spend more time with God in scripture and in prayer and with the Christian community … Curiosity can connect us with people and help us to find understanding and build genuine friendships. Curiosity can help us to ask questions … to get to know people better … to know their stories … to understand their convictions, instead of being reactive and afraid.